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States Shift Away from Costly Juvie Detention, FBI Hair Forensics Fiasco, and “Joven Noble”

April 21st, 2015 by Taylor Walker


States are starting to replace the ineffective and expensive practice of incarcerating kids in residential facilities, choosing instead to keep kids with their families through community-based alternatives, according to a new Pew Charitable Trusts brief on the issue.

Research shows that out-of-home detention fails to reduce recidivism, and in many cases, makes kids more likely to reoffend.

A recent study in Texas found that kids housed in state detention facilities were 21% more likely to be arrested again within one year of release than their peers under community supervision.

And neither do longer stays in residential detention facilities lower recidivism rates.

A Ohio report revealed that kids kept locked up longer were much more likely to reoffend than kids detained for a shorter period.

Multiple studies reveal that states receive a paltry return on the millions of taxpayer dollars they spend on locking kids up.

In 2012, CA was spending around $180,000 annually to house each locked-up kid. And more than half of the state’s incarcerated kids reoffended within three years of release.

Many states are catching on and passing legislation to limit what types of offenses can land kids in out-of-home facilities, and for how long they can remain incarcerated.

In 2007, California banned sending kids to state facilities for low-level and nonviolent offenses. Several other states stopped putting kids in detention facilities for misdemeanors and other non-serious offenses. Mississippi even limited out-of-home placements in the state’s training camp to kids with violent felonies or more than three misdemeanors.


A federal review of 268 cases revealed 26 of 28 FBI forensic examiners overstated hair comparisons 95% of the time when giving forensic testimony against a defendant. According to the investigation, the examiners gave flawed testimony against 32 defendants facing death sentences, nine of whom have already been executed, and four of whom have since been exonerated.

But the Justice Department is not stopping at 268. Around 2,500 applicable cases from before the year 2000 (in which the lab reported hair matches) are slated for review.

The Washington Post’s Spencer Hsu has the story. Here are some clips:

The FBI errors alone do not mean there was not other evidence of a convict’s guilt. Defendants and federal and state prosecutors in 46 states and the District are being notified to determine whether there are grounds for appeals. Four defendants were previously exonerated.

The admissions mark a watershed in one of the country’s largest forensic scandals, highlighting the failure of the nation’s courts for decades to keep bogus scientific information from juries, legal analysts said. The question now, they said, is how state authorities and the courts will respond to findings that confirm long-suspected problems with subjective, pattern-based forensic techniques — like hair and bite-mark comparisons — that have contributed to wrongful convictions in more than one-quarter of 329 DNA-exoneration cases since 1989.


The FBI is waiting to complete all reviews to assess causes but has acknowledged that hair examiners until 2012 lacked written standards defining scientifically appropriate and erroneous ways to explain results in court. The bureau expects this year to complete similar standards for testimony and lab reports for 19 forensic disciplines…

Federal authorities are offering new DNA testing in cases with errors, if sought by a judge or prosecutor, and agreeing to drop procedural objections to appeals in federal cases.

However, biological evidence in the cases often is lost or unavailable. Among states, only California and Texas specifically allow appeals when experts recant or scientific advances undermine forensic evidence at trial.


In Santa Ana, where the incarceration rates for young Latino men are higher than anywhere else in Orange County, Joven Noble (Noble Young Man) seeks better outcomes for at-risk boys and young men through character development and restorative justice.

The culturally informed curriculum was developed by National Latino Fatherhood and Family Institute. Joven Noble provides young boys and men with an emotional outlet and important behavior skills.

The Santa Ana Boys and Men of Color has helped spread the curriculum to Santa Ana schools, where kids can enroll as an alternative to suspension.

The OC Register’s Alejandra Molina has more on Joven Noble and the boys the program has helped. Here’s a clip:

Here in Santa Ana, coordinators are hoping to reach Latino youth by instilling a “rites of passage” curriculum, or Joven Noble, that challenges the myth that manhood is defined by physical dominance and sex. Manhood, the practice says, is about honor, generosity and respect.

For Reyes, expressing his feelings proved a struggle. He said he rebelled after his older brother died. He would bottle up his feelings and resort to “punching something and making a hole in the wall.”

After learning about Joven Noble, his outlook is different.

Reyes now believes that real men respect women, and they’re responsible. They let out their emotions. “They actually get emotional,” he said.


The program has its roots in South Los Angeles, Compton and Watts to address Latino youth struggling and “exhibiting their pain with substance abuse and gangs.”

Jerry Tello, director of the National Latino Fatherhood and Family Institute, who developed Joven Noble, said when programs honor one’s identity and culture, “problem behaviors begin to lessen.”

Teachers and counselors at pilot schools send a list to coordinators, or circle keepers, of 15 students who have displayed behavioral problems or who would benefit from the curriculum. Enrollment would be an alternative to suspension, Rios said.

Gathered in a circle, students can vent about their weekend or highlight something positive for the week. A lot of it is storytelling, having a conversation. Within those circle discussions, Rios said, “it gives us a space to re-establish the values, traditions.”

At the core of Joven Noble is redefining what it means to be a man.

Posted in FBI, Gangs, Injunctions, Innocence, juvenile justice, Juvenile Probation, law enforcement, Restorative Justice, Youth at Risk | No Comments »

Trutanich, Taggers & the Madness of Bad Injunctions

August 25th, 2009 by Celeste Fremon


Monday, the LA Times’ Scott Gold reported that,
in an interview with new LA City Attorney Carmen Trutanich, Trutanich said that, through the use of a civil injunction similar to a gang injunction, he planned to give police the power to arrest and jail taggers just for hanging out together. Not for tagging. Or for planning to tag. But just for talking to each other. About whatever. School. The Dodgers. The merits of this spray paint over that one.

Now, just to be clear, with this new notion, Trutanich is not talking about gang members who tag, which is a whole different deal, and a provocative and dangerous business. The city attorney says he intends to aim his legal guns at graffiti crews: Guys (or young women) who spray paint their nicknames on walls, light posts, and freeway overpasses as a form of risk-courting, illegal sport.

He wants to slap those kids and young adults with the equivalent of a gang injunction, which means they can be arrested, in essence, just for being a tagger. Or, more specifically, for being a tagger who is standing with someone else who has been labeled a tagger, whether he or she is—in fact— a tagger or not..

(Functionally, a gang injunction works like a restraining order. But, instead of barring contact with an individual, it bans certain activities by purported members of a particular group named in the order.)

I am not, by the way, defending tagging. I hate that the proprietors of small, family-owned stores have to repaint their walls over and over, and that some of LA’s most beautiful murals have been repeatedly defaced by graffiti. I have often wished I could exchange more than a few terse words with the idiots who kept tagging up Frank Romero’s gorgeous “Going to the Olympics” mural that used to reside along the Hollywood Freeway. (Of course, it was CalTrans that actually managed to destroy the artwork. But that’s another topic altogether.)


I even pretty much buy the whole “broken windows” theory. (This is the theory of crime prevention popularized by criminologists, George L. Kelling and James Q. Wilson. The idea is that if one controls the small, quality-of-life crimes in any given neighborhood—the metaphorical broken windows—community members feel less helpless and more able to “reinforce the informal control mechanisms of the community itself.” When community members began exerting their own control, goes the theory, the big crimes will lessen as well. In many of LA’s communities, graffiti is the most obvious form of broken window to address.)

However we already have laws about spray-painting messages on property not your own. In fact, ever since that dream statute for the law-and-order obsessed, Proposition 21, passed in 2000—lowering the ceiling for felony vandalism from its former $50,000 threshold to $400—comparatively minor outings by the young and the foolish toting spray cans may be prosecuted as felonies with up to three years in prison.

One would think that would be enough.

But apparently one would be wrong.

“I’m going to put together an end-of-days scenario for these guys,” Trutanich said. “If you want to tag, be prepared to go to jail. And I don’t have to catch you tagging. I can just catch you . . . with your homeboys.”


In Sacramento, our legislators are battling desperately to find some way to cut California’s eat-everything corrections budget by incarcerating fewer people in this prison benighted state. And now our new city attorney wants criminalize and lock up taggers who hang out with each other—as part of some half-hatched scare-em-straight plot?

This is really, really not an encouraging omen.

When Gold questioned Trutanich about why he was “proposing to adopt the same tactics police use on the city’s toughest criminals against people who are typically viewed as more of an annoyance,” the city attorney had a ready answer.

“At the end of the day,” he said, “they are no less of a gang.”

To support that contention, he pointed to several incidents in which people have been shot and killed after confronting graffiti vandals in residential areas — a Valinda man in 2006, for instance, and a Pico Rivera woman a year later.

Yeah. Well. About that “no less than a gang” thing, Mr. City Attorney: At the end of the day, as you put it, with all due respect, that just isn’t the case.

Here’s the deal: When tagging crews start packing firearms and shooting at innocent people—or at each other— we no longer call them taggers. That’s banging, dude. One is no longer in outlaw graffiti artist territory; one has moved, by definition, into gangsterland.

Gold talked to the ACLU’s Peter Bibring who doesn’t think Trutanich can pull off this idea of a tagger injunction, that it will be found unconstitutional. I think Bibring is right. There is much about even the run-of-the mill gang injunction that skates perilously close to the edge of constitutionality. I suspect this tagger injunction plan will topple easily right off the edge. (See the article for more on that.) If all this goes forward, we will find out, I guess.

Right this minute, LA has 43—count em—43 injunctions against gangs.. When Trutanich was elected in many of us had hoped that he would start dialing back some of the injunctions as no longer needed, while keeping the most relevant ones and making sure that those were sharply targeted at the right people and gangs. This tagger idea is philosophically a huge step in the exact opposite direction. So what exactly is going on?

Mr. City Attorney…. um.. Nuch….. I met you a few months ago. Remember?

We had a nice chat. You seemed intelligent and sensible. (Not all power mad, or anything.)

Thus, I’m going to hope that you merely lost your head a little with this crazy tagger injunction idea.

Okay, fine. It can happen. You may have a Do-Over. No problem.

But just one.
PS: The Daily News has a short editorial on the issue.
PPS: I have no idea how the comments got closed for a time on this post. (Ghosts, I tell you.) But as you can see, they’re open now. A thank you to Woody for flagging the problem.

Posted in City Attorney, Injunctions, law enforcement | 18 Comments »